When agit-punks Against Me! released their major label debut, "New Wave" in 2007, it was the musical equivalent of opening a blast-furnace door. The music's power and gut-punch delivery provided an in-your-face outpouring of punk, rock, and bellowing anger.
The only question: could they deliver again?
"White Crosses" is a resounding yes, answering the call that its predecessor issued, only it's a little tighter and leaner, with a swagger that's impressive and unyielding.
Lead singer and lyricist Tom Gabel is an unrepentant challenger of authority, whether it's the church, his fellow band members, or society at large. Which means that Against Me! songs often come across as salvos, challenging you to some kind of action, whether it's pumping your fists, bellowing along with him, or, if you disagree with his message, turning it off.
This time around he rails against anti-abortion activists on the title track, addresses his own political evolution on "I Was a Teenage Anarchist," and addresses complacency on "Bamboo Bones." Throughout the disc's 10 songs, Gabel writes with literacy and efficiency, an unbeatable combination.
Musically, Against Me! sounds like a delirious mix of Green Day, Bruce Springsteen, and the Ramones, which is a potent combination that is addicting if you're inclined in those directions.
Just as "New Wave" ended up on a lot of critics' "best of" lists three years ago, expect "White Crosses" to make the grade for 2010. This is great stuff.
- ROD LOCKWOOD
The prince of putdown, Simon Cowell, used to dismiss particularly hideous cover versions on American Idol as karaoke. Which at times was unkind to karaoke.
But his scathing criticism comes to mind when listening to this irredeemably awful 14-track collection from the hit TV show Glee.
The show has its charms, with the musical performances playing a starring role that is key to its ongoing popularity. So it makes commercial sense to put out soundtracks - and those released so far have matched the show's success.
But based on the enormity of the crime against pop music perpetrated by the intolerable "Volume 3," it's difficult to figure out why.
Why would anyone want to buy these third-rate versions of a grab-bag of songs including "Hello, Goodbye," "Lady Is A Tramp," and "Bad Romance"? Cast performances that may be fun to watch and tolerable to hear on TV fall utterly flat on disc.
It's hard to believe that any remake of "Hello" or "Physical" could be worse than the originals. But yes! Success. Glee plumbs new depths with its versions. And the song programming seems ludicrously random. "I Dreamed A Dream" next to a cringingly bad "Give Up The Funk." What?
No doubt this CD will, like its predecessors, ride the show's popularity and sell by the truckload. But it's still perilously close to unlistenable.
- RICHARD PATON
Tad Robinson may be one of the best soul-blues singers - with the emphasis on soul - who isn't a household name among the general public yet. Give him time.
Anyone warm and smooth enough to remind listeners of the late Sam Cooke one minute and Robert Cray the next is bound to expand his following. On this 47-minute disc, his third on the Severn label (he's also been recorded on Delmark and Rounder), Robinson is joined by the Memphis Horns and the Severn House Band.
He delivers a groove-infused, heartfelt set of mostly original songs with hints of artists he listened to as a youth who were associated with the old Motown and Stax record labels. His original work hits upon the familiar themes of love and loss, but they take a more positive, upbeat, and forward-thinking approach than what is often heard in soul or blues.
Robinson has a highly infectious, easy-on-the ears style that offers the complete package of great vocals with lyrics and arrangements that, while not necessarily breaking new ground, are pleasantly upbeat and soothing. He's a real treat to hear.
- TOM HENRY